EYESORES AND ODDITIES

The ATF's Decoratively Defensible Look

The new headquarters of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives includes this
The new headquarters of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives includes this "decorative barrier." (By Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

You come upon them every now and then -- a peculiar mystery. What is it? How on earth did it get there? Why doesn't someone get rid of it? We attempt to shed light through this occasional feature.

Imagine for a moment that you are a tourist, humming the family minivan into town on New York Avenue. You sail past the grimy motels, the nudie go-go bar, gas stations, liquor stores, a graveyard for tractor-trailers beside the Union Station railway yard, finally cresting a turtle-humped bridge.

And there before you:

The Capitol dome!

The Washington Monument!

The Aqueduct!

The what?

The aqueduct has been slowly emerging from behind a gaggle of construction cranes that hover near the intersection of New York and Florida avenues NE.

It's white concrete, 30 feet high, perforated, arching and dramatic. It's easy to imagine medieval warriors on top, tipping buckets of boiling oil onto invading hordes. Or maybe armed robots with laser weapons at the ready.

It looks oversized and out of place in a gritty neighborhood that is a traffic-choked mishmash of barren warehouses, trash-strewn vacant lots and tired-looking fast-food outlets.

But it would look wildly weird anywhere else in Washington, too.

It stands before a huge stone-and-glass building that developers trumpet as a take-your-breath-away entree to the capital, making it all the more an odd mystery.


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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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